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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: "The novel, told in flashback by nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski, recounts the wild and wonderful period he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus he joined during the Great Depression. When 23-year-old Jankowski learns that his parents have been killed in a car crash, leaving him penniless, he drops out of Cornell veterinary school and parlays his expertise with animals into a job with the circus, where he cares for a menagerie of exotic creatures, including an elephant who only responds to Polish commands. He also falls in love with Marlena, one of the show's star performers-a romance complicated by Marlena's husband, the unbalanced, sadistic circus boss who beats both his wife and the animals Jankowski cares for." (Publisher's Weekly Review)
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen has become a favorite for book club discussions because it is so rich in interesting characters, historical background and compelling plot. Here are several other titles that are popular with book clubs because there is so much to discuss in all of them.
The Adventures of Miles and Isabel by Tom Gilling
"Writhing with labor pains, the very pregnant actress Eliza McGinty is on stage portraying Hamlet in lieu of the drunken actor originally slated for the part, while in the audience the demure Mrs. Ernest Dowling is having contractions of her own. Miles and Isabel would share more than the same birth date in 1856; they would be children of the Industrial Revolution, fascinated by the power of turning cogs and flying machines. Isabel is the child of privilege and a victim of her own femininity in a male-dominated society, and Miles is the illegitimate son of an actress traveling as part of a levitation act, but their common love of invention and possibility would put them on a journey of souls destined to meet. Fantastical and magical, this novel is peppered with humor and the excitement of a time period laden with anticipation and opportunities for the creative, restless minds of innovation."-Booklist review
The Bee’s Kiss by Barbara Cleverly
“It's 1926, and Joe Sandilands is back from Ranipur, yet there is a darkness behind all the postwar gaiety. Against the background of a looming general strike and pressure from an unseen governmental presence, Joe struggles to solve four murders, picking his way through the political panic and rebelling against authority.”—catalog summary
Bel Canto : A Novel by Ann Patchett.
From the bestselling author of "The Magician's Assistant" comes a marvelous novel of love, opera, and terrorism set in South America. Two couples, complete opposites, fall in love; sexual identities become confused; and a horrific imprisonment is transformed into an unexpected heaven on earth.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel--a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
"Based on local history and family stories passed down by the author's great-great-grandfather, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded soldier Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war and back home to his prewar sweetheart, Ada. Inman's odyssey through the devastated landscape of the soon-to-be-defeated South interweaves with Ada's struggle to revive her father's farm, with the help of an intrepid young drifter named Ruby. As their long-separated lives begin to converge at the close of the war, Inman and Ada confront the vastly transformed world they've been delivered."-catalog summary
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
"...tells of young, vivacious Eliza Sommers, who follows her lover to California during the Gold Rush of 1849--a danger-filled quest that will become a momentous journey of transformation for Eliza."-catalog summary
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
“The lives of 54-year-old concierge Reneé Michel and extremely bright, suicidal 12-year-old Paloma Josse are transformed by the arrival of a new tenant, Kakuro Ozu.”—catalog summary
The Girl in the Glass by Jeffery Ford.
Set in Depression-era Long Island, on the posh North Shore this story is narrated by Diego, a 17-year-old Mexican illegal immigrant. The boy’s mentor and surrogate father Thomas Schell had rescued him from the street and taught him to speak English and help hold phony séances for wealthy Long Islanders. Then Schell sees an apparition of a girl during a séance and believes this vision will lead them to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Charlotte Barnes, daughter of shipping magnate Harold Barnes.
Good Things I Wish You by A. Manette Ansay
The acclaimed author of "Vinegar Hill" returns with a poignant story of two summer romances, separated in time by nearly two centuries. Beautifully designed with sketches and notes, this work blends fiction and historical fact to capture the timeless essence of love. (catalog summary)
The House at Riverton: A Novel by Kate Morton.
Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. At a society party in 1924 a young poet commits suicide. The only witnesses were the two daughters of the family, Hannah and Emmeline, and only they and Grace Bradley know what really happened. In 1999 the elderly Grace is interviewed by a film director planning a movie about the event. The novel is reminiscent of a Daphne du Maurier suspense romance and is evocative of the time after World War I.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg
“This…novel takes readers back to the thirties, where a friendship blooms between two girls who run a homey, little café in Alabama. A story of food, love, laughter, and even murder unfolds as an elderly woman relates her life story to a middle-aged friend.”—catalog summary
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards.
On a winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry is forced by a blizzard to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy. Yet when his daughter is born, he sees immediately that she has Down's Syndrome. Rationalizing it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a split-second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret. But Caroline, the nurse, cannot leave the infant. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child herself. So begins this beautifully told story that unfolds over a quarter of a century in which these two families, ignorant of each other, are yet bound by the fateful decision made that long-ago winter night.
Metropolis by Elizabeth Gaffney
On a freezing night in the middle of winter, Gaffney's nameless hero is suddenly awakened by a fire in P. T. Barnum's stable, where he works and sleeps, and soon finds himself at the center of a citywide arson investigation. Determined to clear his name and realize the dreams that inspired his hazardous voyage across the Atlantic, he will change his identity many times, find himself mixed up with one of the city's toughest and most enterprising gangs, and fall in love with a smart, headstrong, and beautiful young woman. Buffeted by the forces of fate, hate, luck, and passion, our hero struggles to build a life-just to stay alive-in a country that at first held so much promise for him. (catalog summary)
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours. Paris, May 2002: On Vel d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
Silk by Alessandro Baricco
"Herve Joncour, a young French merchant in the 1860s, makes a series of clandestine journeys across Siberia to Japan to purchase silkworm eggs, and becomes involved with a Japanese nobleman's concubine."-catalog summary
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
“In nineteenth century China … a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, or “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The two women exchange messages written on silk fans and handkerchiefs using nu shu, a unique language the women created in order to communicate in secret … but when a misunderstanding arises, their friendship threatens to tear apart.”—catalog summary
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan C. Bradley
“Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce is an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. In the summer of 1950, a series of inexplicable events strikes Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that her family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp pinned to its beak. Later, Flavia finds a man dying in the cucumber patch. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw.”—catalog summary
Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
“During the 1630's in Amsterdam, local inhabitants sought to secure immortality by having their respective portraits painted. Sophia Sandvoort sits for such a portrait next to her elderly husband Cornelis. The surroundings included objects representing her husband's piety along with a tulip. For Cornelis has made money from the speculation on this flower and its bulbs. However, as Jan van Loos begins to capture Sophia's likeness on canvas, a slow passion progresses between them.”—catalog summary
The Widow’s War by Sally Gunning
“When her husband is lost in a whaling disaster, Lyddie Berry finds her status as a widow is vastly changed. Her son-in-law sets out to strip her of everything she and her husband worked for, but she refuses to bow to societal and legal pressures.”—catalog summary
The Wild Girl: the Notebooks of Ned Giles, 1932 by Jim Fergus
From the award-winning author of One Thousand White Women, a novel in the tradition of Little Big Man, tracing one man's search for adventure and the wild Apache girl who invites him into her world hen Ned Giles is orphaned as a teenager, he heads West hoping to leave his troubles behind. He joins the 1932 Great Apache Expedition on their search for a young boy, the son of a wealthy Mexican landowner, who was kidnapped by wild Apaches. But the expedition's goal is complicated when they encounter a wild Apache girl in a Mexican jail cell, victim of a Mexican massacre of her tribe that has left her orphaned and unwilling to eat or speak. As he and the expedition make their way through the rugged Sierra Madre mountains, Ned's growing feelings for the troubled girl soon force him to choose allegiances and make a decision that will haunt him forever. (catalog summary)
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
New York City is subsumed in arctic winds, dark nights, and white lights, its life unfolds, for it is an extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built, and nothing exists that can check its vitality. One night in winter, Peter Lake--orphan and master-mechanic, attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side. Though he thinks the house is empty, the daughter of the house is home. Thus begins the love between Peter Lake, a middle-aged Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young girl, who is dying. Peter Lake, a simple, uneducated man, because of a love that, at first he does not fully understand, is driven to stop time and bring back the dead. His great struggle, in a city ever alight with its own energy and besieged by unprecedented winters, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary stories of American literature. (catalog summary)